Building a Kitchen Island DIY Using Stock Cabinets

how to build a kitchen island out of base cabinets

Are you looking for an affordable way to add a kitchen island? I ask because I know a great way to use stock cabinets to make a new kitchen island. Sounds great, right? Well, it sounds great because it is! We all know the kitchen is the heart of the home and having plenty of room beside the dining table where family and friends can gather is highly desirable. We all also know how costly kitchen renovations are, so maybe the idea of a new island is out of the question due to high price tag. That’s how making a kitchen island out of base cabinets comes in! Creating a custom kitchen island is a great option that is also affordable.

When renovating my old house, I searched for affordable ways to add extra storage space and work space in my small kitchen. I considered everything from using a piece of furniture, ikea cabinets, a pre-made island, to kitchen base cabinets. I ultimately created a custom island using two base cabinets. This diy project gave me so much space to pack lunches, prep dinner, and catch up with a good friend over a bottle of wine. The best part about using base cabinets to create a kitchen island is how it works for small and large island alike. Let’s dive in.

Just a friendly reminder: This tutorial and any opinions or recommendations are genuinely mine, but this is not a substitute for consulting a professional. I also use affiliate links to earn a commission.

Selecting Kitchen Base Cabinets

how to build a kitchen island out of base cabinets

The first thing you need to do when building a base cabinet island is find kitchen cabinets you love. Sounds easy, until you start looking at all the different options out there and suddenly this seemingly simple task is not so simple!

Here are the four major things you need to consider when selecting which cabinets to use for your kitchen island:

  • Unfinished vs. finished- unfinished means the surface is not stained or painted, meaning you’ll have to do this yourself. Having to finish the surface of your cabinets may be a perk if you’re looking to paint the whole thing to match the rest of the kitchen or if you’re looking to do a unique paint color. Finished cabinets, on the other hand, although more limited in color and maybe a bit more expensive, this option cuts down on the amount of finishing work you’ll have to do later.
  • Front of the cabinet style- cabinet style is a personal preference; however, shaker style is currently a very popular choice. I’m an avid Home Depot shopper; however, for this project, I found the best shaker cabinets in stock at Lowe’s. I don’t know about you, but when I have a project idea in mind, I don’t want to wait, so being able to hop in my car and one hour later come home with two brand new cabinets was a total win in my book!
  • Cabinet drawers vs. cabinet doors – each of these has different advantages so take the time to think about how this entire island will function best for you. Although cabinet drawers are more expensive, they provide way more cabinet space, so if your budget allows, opt for more drawers vs. a cabinet door.
how to build a kitchen island out of base cabinets

Kitchen Island Layout

When I did my own diy kitchen island, bringing home the cabinets and seeing them in the kitchen was the best way to make a final decision on the island layout. Sure, I had a general idea of how I wanted it to look but seeing it in the space really helped me decide on the final layout. 

Since the final design of your kitchen island will probably be a little different than mine, here are three things to consider when you are deciding on the layout of your kitchen island:

  • Height- the two most commonly used kitchen island heights are countertop and bar height. Counter height is 36 inches and is a good choice if you’re primarily using the extra counter space for extra space to prep food. If you’re looking to add seating around your island, then bar height is a great idea. The standard height is 42 inches for bar height. I like the look of the counter height. I like how it provides a more seamless view into the kitchen versus bar height which has a piece of countertop that extends higher into your sight line.
how to build a kitchen island out of base cabinets
how to build a kitchen island out of base cabinets
  • Size- the size of the cabinets you need is based on the size of your island. I used painter’s tape to give me an idea of what different sizes of base cabinets configuration would look like to give an idea of what I should do for my island size. For smaller kitchens, you’ll probably only have enough room to use two 30-36″ cabinets.
  • Here are a few minimums to be aware of when deciding on a kitchen island layout:
    • The minimum base size is 40 inches.
    • The minimum aisleway around the island is 36 inches.
    • The minimum countertop overhang is 15 inches for a standard height and 12 inches for bar height.
  • Seating- the number of bar stools you can comfortably place around your kitchen island depends on your kitchen island design and the size of the island. Here are some rough measurements to give you an idea of how big or small your island should be based on the number of seats you want around it:
    • Two seats= 40-60″ island
    • Three seats= 60-70″ island
    • Four seats= 79-95″ island
    • Five seats= 98-118″ island
    • Six seats 118-142″ island

DIY Kitchen Island Tutorial

how to build a kitchen island out of base cabinets

Once you’ve determined the final layout for your kitchen island cabinets, you are ready to secure them into place! The first step is to attach the cabinets using cabinet screws and an impact driver. Next, connect your cabinets to the floor. If you’re working over a tile floor, ensure you pre-drill using a particular tile bit to prevent cracking. Once your cabinets are secured, you can attach a toe kick utilizing a nail gun. Add any trim pieces and use wood filler to fill nail holes. After the filler is dry, give it a light sand, and now finally, you’re reading for paint!

Painting Your DIY Kitchen Island

If you bought unfinished cabinets, you need to determine how to paint kitchen cabinets, including knowing the best paint to ensure your diy kitchen island lasts. Before you paint, you must take the time to properly prep your cabinets to ensure the paint does not chip. I painted my kitchen cabinets and am proud to say the process I used gave me gorgeous cabinets that have proved to be durable and for very little money.

Here’s the cliff notes version of my five steps to painting kitchen cabinets:

  • Prep- prepare your kitchen to paint by removing everything from your kitchen and surrounding area.
  • Prime- apply two coats of primer (sanding with 220 grit sandpaper between each coat).
  • Paint- give your cabinets a fresh coat of paint. Two coats, to be exact (sanding with 220 grit sandpaper between each coat).
  • Drawers and Doors- the trick is starting with the back and then moving to the front.
  • Hinges and Hardware- attach drawer pulls, hinges, and other hardware.

Check out my full post on how to paint kitchen cabinets.

Kitchen Island Countertop Options

how to build a kitchen island out of base cabinets

When you use base cabinets for your kitchen island, the top of the cabinets is completely open. Because of this you may need a piece of plywood to act as your counter while you wait for your countertops.

There are many counter top options – butcher block countertops, stone countertops, quartz countertop, and so on. All of these options have in common is the added prep space. Beyond that, each one has its pros and cons.

If you’re looking for the most budget-friendly option, then opt for butcher block. You’ll not only save on the piece, but you’ll also save on installation since you can easily install this yourself! Of note, butcher block countertops are incredibly heavy, so I needed help from my dad getting this home from the store and installed on my kitchen island.

One question you’ll need to be able to answer is how much overhang do you want? The countertop overhang prevents drips and spills from getting onto the cabinets, so the standard overhang is 1-1.5 inches from the front of the cabinet. I personally prefer the 1.5-inch overhang, so drips are less likely to reach my beautiful island cabinets.

Tips and Tricks

how to build a kitchen island out of base cabinets

The only thing about using base cabinets is that since you’re using something initially intended to face the wall, the back of your cabinet is unfinished. Finishing the back of your base cabinets requires a little extra work, but it is essential to giving your island a professional look. An easy way to make a back panel while making the kitchen island an even more focal point in the room is to shiplap. I love how shiplap also adds texture to the island, giving it an even more upgraded look!

Another tip is to run your kitchen floor under the island’s base because you just never know what you may decide in the future, and if you want to change things up, you’ll be thrilled when you re-discover that you have continuous flooring throughout your entire kitchen.

Builder code requires at least one electric outlet on the island.

How to Make a Kitchen Island Out of Base Cabinets: Wrap Up

You asked how to make a kitchen island out of base cabinets, and I delivered the best tips and tricks. I hope you’re feeling more confident about making a diy kitchen island now that I’ve given you this complete guide.

I’d absolutely love to celebrate your success in creating a diy kitchen island. Leave a comment with your before and after pics!



PS. Want more ideas and inspiration?

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